American Traditions on Independence Day
The Fourth of July 4 is approaching. Americans everywhere will celebrate this national holiday with barbecues, parades, perhaps a baseball game or a picnic, and cap off the summer evening with fireworks. Ask any American what the best day for fireworks is and they’ll answer “Independence Day, the Fourth of July.” The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) estimates that more than 14,000 fireworks displays light up U.S. skies each 4th of July. Fireworks is a $940 million industry in America; between 75% to 90% of that industry is lit up on this one day 
Fireworks were invented by the Chinese in the 7th Century. I wish I knew how and why it became such an American tradition to celebrate American Independence. Perhaps it is the influence of our national anthem which praises rockets and bombs in the lyrics? Chinese may have invented gunpowder, but Americans do love their guns.
Another American tradition is to play marching band songs over the fireworks. “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Phillip Sousa is a personal favorite and often played for the finale. After a long, hot day of parades and barbecues it is fantastic to sit in a lawn chair, watch the night sky lit up with fireworks as the band plays.
My Personal Experience
I grew up in within driving distance of Willow Grove Park. It was one of the premier amusement parks of the US in the early 1900’s. The music pavilion, where Sousa’s band played from 1901 to 1926 was one of its main attractions. By the 1950’s it was eclipsed by modern theme parks like Great Adventure, Six Flags and Disneyland. It’s Willow Grove Mall now, and has been as long as I can remember. There are pictures of Souza and his Pavilion on the walls.
It was a marching band concert in Virginia where my wife and I had our first date. I don’t listen to marching band music all the time, but it was the season, July 2. It didn’t start out as a date, we went with a group of friends. After the rest of them left I worked up the courage to kiss her for the first time. July 2, 1994 best fireworks ever!
Historians like to note that July 2nd is the actual Day of Independence. That was when the Continental Congress, in closed session, voted to separate from the Kingdom of Great Britain. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” Today, Americans celebrate the fourth because it took another two days to write up the actual document known as the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers hadn’t thought to date it retroactively. Publicity is everything.
Fireworks and Children
It is very common for American children to light their own fireworks on Independence Day. This is illegal in many areas, including my native Pennsylvania. As a kid, I would have to travel great distances to buy fireworks legally (e.g. this highway oasis), or trade with someone who did. I learned real quick that if police caught us lighting up, it was best to surrender everything and call it a night. Later, they would circle around and look for us again. If they caught us a second time, that meant they caught us in a lie, which is a whole new level of trouble. I sometimes wonder if folks like Martha Stewart would have been better off later in life if they got caught with fireworks a few times as a kid. She grew up in New Jersey, which is just across the Delaware River. They can’t have fireworks without a permit there either.
I lit my last bootleg firecracker on July 4th at the age of 13. I had been launching them into the air with a slingshot when one went off prematurely in my hand, next to my right ear. I consider myself lucky that there was no permanent damage. The numbness in my fingers and ringing in my ears only lasted an hour or two, but it was enough for me to lose all interest in amateur fireworks for the rest of my life. I leave the fireworks to the professionals now. For every 100 pounds of fireworks detonated in the US, 3.5 people report injuries. 40% of them are children under 15.
My 4th of July Hope
I wish everyone a happy and safe Independence Day. Enjoy the fireworks from a safe distance. I’ll ask my wife if she knows how Americans came to love fireworks so much, she’s from China, after all!